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What are the tiebreakers in the World Cup group stage?

We go over the tiebreaker rules in the group stage of the World Cup.

HARRISON, NJ - SEPTEMBER 27: Argentina forward Lionel Messi (10) during the international friendly soccer game between Argentina and Jamaica on September 27, 2022 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2022 FIFA World Cup arrives with Qatar as the host nation for the tournament. The competition kicks off on Sunday, November 20 at 11:00 a.m. ET with Qatar facing Ecuador in the first match of the group stage. This year’s tournament will make history as the first instance of the competition being played in the winter, after being pushed back from its usual date in the summer.

As each country prepares for competition in the group stage, the short-term goal ahead is to advance to the knockout stage of the tournament. Each country begins with three matches versus designated opponents in their respective group, but there is always the possibility that a tiebreaker is needed to decide which country advances to the next stage and which team is left on the outside looking in.

To start off, the top two teams in the group advance to the knockout stage, which is determined by the number of points accumulated after the first three matches. Three points are awarded for a win, one point for a tie and zero points are awarded after a loss. In the case of multiple teams finishing with the same number of points after the group stage, then tiebreakers come into play.

The first tiebreaker is the goal differential in all of the group matches, which is simply the total number of goals scored minus goals surrendered. The next tiebreaker is the greatest number of goals scored in all group matches between the tied teams.

If the teams are still tied up to this point, then the next tiebreaker is identifying the points obtained in group games between the teams involved. If one side in a two-way tie won the match against the other then it moves on. If three teams are still tied at this stage, the highest point total in games between the teams involved gets the nod.

If the aforementioned teams are still tied at this point, then the goal difference from games involving the teams concerned and the number of goals scored in games between teams concerned are factored in. Historically, this tiebreaker comes into play if there are three teams in the mix to move onto the knockout stage.

If teams still remain tied at this point, then their disciplinary records in the tournament are factored in. A yellow card takes one point off your total points, an indirect red (the result of being shown a second yellow card) is three points off, a straight red is four points off, and a yellow and a direct red card is worth five points off your total. The team with the highest total points remaining is the one that advances.

If the impossible is achieved and the teams are still tied up to this point, then the drawing of lots becomes the final tiebreaker. The teams still in consideration have their names printed out and drawn from a bowl, similar to the group stage draw. Whichever team is drawn out is given the top spot out of the tiebreaker, while the other is likely eliminated from the group stage.